By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
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By Jill Stewart
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By Dennis Romero
A minute later Sanabria reverses herself: "They don't care about anyone, they don't respect anyone, they're not afraid of anyone." And after another minute's digression -- the problem with this country, she explains, is that parents aren't allowed to discipline their kids -- she turns around again: "I don't have any problem with them. They looked out for me."
A little over a year ago, the gangsters were evicted for fire-code violations having nothing to do with the injunction. The windows on the second floor have been boarded up. "Now the street is empty," Sanabria says, almost nostalgically. The dealing, she observes, has just moved a block away, but no one comes into her store anymore, and, she says, pointing defeatedly at a stack of unpaid bills on the desk in front of her, she thinks she'll have to sell it. And she's still afraid, not of 18th Street, but of the homeless addicts who roam the newly quiet streets, who have already robbed her twice.
SANABRIA'S REVERSALS ARE NOT NECESsarily contradictory, or no less contradictory than 18th Streeters' relation to the neighborhood, as thugs, but also as neighbors; as a constant source of danger, but also as sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, friends or friends of friends, people with whom one has to forge a relationship in order to get by. And that relationship -- like the twisted economy of the streets, in which a drug dealer's eviction can mean failure for a local grocery store -- is considerably more complex than the simple equation of victim and perp envisioned by Jim Hahn and the LAPD. Get rid of the most obvious perpetrators, and you still have a whole neighborhood of victims.
Last year 54 percent of Pico-Union's population was living in poverty. In 1990, the per capita annual income for Latinos in the neighborhood was $5,099, less than one-third the county average. While Pastor Paiva and others -- Arturo among them -- are hoping the construction of the nearby Staples Center will bring jobs and investment into the neighborhood, thus far the much heralded economic boom of the late '90s has made very few inroads into the community. The crime rate, despite it all, is still higher than almost anywhere else in the city. The Latino dropout rate at Belmont High, which serves Pico-Union, is 65 percent higher than the dropout rate for the district at large. A handful of community groups do run after-school programs that aim at gang prevention, but although there is now, through the city's L.A. Bridges program, more money available than ever before, they are still radically underfunded and can reach only a small fraction of the kids who need them. Almost no money goes to the few existing gang-intervention programs, which try to reach kids once they're already deeply involved in gang life.
Every time I asked a gang member how he got involved with 18th Street, the answer was the same. One simple sentence: "I grew up in the neighborhood." Unless the political will is born to listen to the voices coming out of that neighborhood, to register their existence, to heed their demands, then, like the kids say, 18th Street will never die.
The names Arturo, Laura, Luis and Mike in this article are pseudonyms. No other names have been changed.